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Avoid cheap frames and blue light coatings, consumer watchdog advises

Which? offers new advice on what to pay for at the opticians, and what to avoid


Which? the consumer watchdog, has produced a new report that looks at what consumers should and should not pay for when visiting an optical practice.

The article, When is it worth paying more at the opticians or dentist? published in its August 2018 edition, explains how to choose good-quality affordable glasses.

The article also offers what to consider when paying privately for dental work, as well as the pros and cons of NHS hearing aids.

In the test

Discussing the eye examination process, Which? advises its members that there is “no need for most people to pay for extra sight tests,” adding that, “Sight tests are regulated and require that your eye health is assessed.

“Additional tests should only be recommended where there’s a clinical need. Optometrists may recommend one in order to record a baseline for future comparison, which is useful if you have an increased risk of developing a problem. Additional tests are also useful for monitoring the worsening of age-related conditions such as glaucoma or macular degeneration.”

Extras highlighted in the article that could be included in an eye examination were retinal photography, OCT specialist scans, and wide-field photography.

The article advises that consumers should always ask how the results will be used.

Frames for you

Which? advises against the purchase of “cheap frames” made from materials such as injection-moulded plastic, stating that these frames can be “uncomfortable or warp over time, especially if you take your glasses on and off a lot. But many mid-range frames will have the attributes of designer brands without the label – or the cost.”

The article suggests that wearers should focus on the frame’s material and feel.

“If you have sensitive skin, make sure you go for a hypoallergenic material such as cellulose acetate. Good-quality acetate glasses should have colour that runs all the way through the construction, rather than being colour-dipped, to prevent small scratches from being easily visible. If you choose gold frames, be aware that they could be gold-coloured, gold-plated or rolled gold, which should last longer.”

Which? adds that consumers can “end up paying a huge premium for designer labels,” noting that whether the price is justifiable is “purely a case of how much you like the style.”

The article advises consumers that the market is “dominated by a handful of companies making frames for both designer labels and the High Street, often in the same factories,” and states that “the optician should be able to advise you on how to get designer quality without the label.”

Lens coatings

Which? advises consumers that most optician chains include anti-scratch lenses as standard, although, “some online retailers or independents may offer it as an extra. Be sure to compare like with like.”

Looking at premium lenses coatings of up to £75 extra, the article states that most opticians offer a range of coatings, or a multi-coating that includes several in one. The article concludes paying for extras is useful only in certain circumstances, including anti-reflection coatings for night drivers.

The article advises consumers that they should not pay extra for blue light blockers, stating: “Studies into whether blue-light blocking coatings reducing eye strain are limited. Contrary to some claims, there is also no evidence that they protect retinal cells from damage from blue light, so they shouldn’t be marketed on this basis.”

Lenses and bespoke varifocals

Which? advises consumers that off-the-shelf ‘ready readers’ come with different strengths of magnifying lens, noting: “In the past, we found that some had lenses that weren’t optically centred, which could cause eye strain and headaches.”

The article adds that, “Cheap ready readers could be fine, as long as you make sure you try reading with them before buying. But be aware that a pair made to your prescription may be better if you are going to be using them for long periods, or for close work other than reading. It’s not necessarily an expensive purchase.”

Quoting Gordon Ilett, a spokesperson for the AOP, the article states: “You should definitely consider prescription reading glasses if you have even mild astigmatism (your cylinder is more than 0.75 of a dioptre). This is likely to apply if you’ve had cataract surgery, for example.”

Which? states that most people don’t need bespoke varifocals. “They won’t usually make a very discernible difference compared to a good mid-range varifocal, but consider them if you have: more than 1.50DC of astigmatism; a particularly large or small distance between your pupils; a frame that sits very close or far away from your eye; previously had trouble with varifocals; or very specific near and intermediate vision requirements – an architect or a librarian might have these.”

Increasing awareness

Asked about the report’s finding, Mr Ilett told OT: “It’s good to see Which? highlighting the importance of regular sight tests. Reminding patients that, as well as helping them see clearly, a visit to their optometrist is an essential health check for eyes and can pick up underlying general health conditions.”

He added: “If patients are concerned about the cost of glasses or sight tests we recommend they speak to their optometrist who can advise on their eligibility for NHS funding. An optometrist or dispensing optician can also help patients choose the best value vision correction for their needs. If, in the rare case, patients do not get on with their glasses the optician or outlet who supplied them is best placed to help.”

“Findings from the AOP’s 2017 survey into the wellbeing of UK optometrists indicates that many within the profession have a deep sense of accountability and diligence. We hope this report will increase awareness among the public of the essential role optometrists have in safeguarding the nation’s vision and eye health,” he concluded.

CEO at Vision Express, Jonathan Lawson, said: “Maintaining good eye health is of paramount importance to us at Vision Express, so when we read articles of this nature, we appreciate the job they do in educating people on eye health conditions, products, and the importance of having regular eye tests – which is hugely important. Across our network of almost 600 stores in the UK and Ireland and via our mobile testing unit, the Vision Van, we have over 100 ways of testing eyes.”

Mr Lawson added that: “Through our campaigns and charitable partnerships, we’re continuously raising awareness of the role regular eye testing plays in detecting conditions highlighted in the Which? article, including glaucoma and macular degeneration. Plus, via our Eye Tests Save Lives campaign and Parliamentary outreach, we’ve made the connection between driver safety and eye health, national news. We are working hard to encourage the Government to focus on making sure drivers have regular eye tests and consider reviewing the efficacy of the number plate test.”

Image credit: Getty